Spend a few minutes contemplating this question:
What is our personality?
Now that you’re ready, let’s get weird. Click the play button below to listen to today’s session.
3 Big Ideas
With more context now, dive back into your list of values. Before you do, here are three ideas worth keeping front of mind.
An unintended benefit of the affiliate model is that each gym can (& should) be unique.
→ Your uniqueness is a good thing. A beautiful thing, in fact. One you should embrace & enhance at every opportunity. It's one of the key differentiators your affiliate has over brands you may consider competition. Gyms & studios like Orangetheory, SoulCycle, & Planet Fitness build locations with uniformity in mind. They want one space to be indistinguishable from the next. Their corporate offices work hard to ensure you're going to get the same product, no matter what.
Branding is as much about defining what you are not as it is about what you are.
→ Your weirdness is a feature, not a flaw. It will be what attracts the right people to your facility. As long as you keep your promises, it will be what keeps them there despite a world filled with safe, boring, corporate options. The people who choose you don’t want to choose the faceless, empty expanse of a Gold’s Gym. They want something different.
In a world of endless choices, we pick the stories we want to believe.
→ Lots of people think gyms without mirrors, ellipticals, towel service, & that cost $200 a month aren’t gyms, but centers of voluntary self-persecution. To other people, those exact same gyms feel like home. Neither belief is wrong. These people are just telling themselves different stories.
All the Words
One of the most undervalued consequences of the affiliation model is that you are able to infect your affiliate with a personality all its own. This is why every CrossFit gym we walk into has a different flavor, a different feel, a different vibe. Each may be serving the same “product,” but everything that goes into the delivery of it feels somehow unrepeatable.
Personality shows itself in many ways. It exists in the brand colors, the music on the stereo, how coaches lead class, social media posts, & much more. A gym’s personality is a collection of related & unrelated details that taken together create a unique result. Often this result is a direct reflection of the owners of the gym, who can’t help but transmogrify their own personality into their facility.
This is a good thing. A beautiful thing, in fact. One you should embrace & enhance at every opportunity. It's one of the key differentiators your affiliate has over brands you may consider competition. Gyms & studios like Orangetheory, SoulCycle, & Planet Fitness build locations with uniformity in mind. They want one space to be indistinguishable from the next. Their corporate offices work hard to ensure you're going to get the same product, no matter what.
This is the same philosophy that makes Starbucks successful. If you want your cup of coffee - & the experience of getting it - in Nashville to be exactly as it was in Orlando, then Starbucks is a good bet. They’re banking on your desire for conformity & comfort. That’s a feature & not a bug, just like it’s a feature for the gyms I mentioned.
Why does this makes sense for them but not for you?
Simple. They want different things than you do.
Orangetheory, SoulCycle, & Starbucks don’t define success by having one or two locations that are killing it. They are successful when multiple franchises add to the overall bottom line & brand. A single location with “personality” - that differs in some fundamental way by offering a unique experience - is risky as hell to both.
Remember that marketing is the act of making promises, & that branding is all the ways we make or break those promises.
If I’m expecting a 60-minute SoulCycle class & I walk into a new studio to find a sea of Concept2 rowers, they've broken a fundamental promise. That’s bad branding, which is bad for business globally. It breaks the sense of familiarity that these brands work so hard to construct.
No such constraints exist for CrossFit affiliates. As long as the gym offers constantly varied functional movements at high intensity, its kept its fundamental promise. Everything else - I repeat, EVERYTHING ELSE - is up for grabs.
Therein lies your personality.
There’s no risk in you being weirder than the CrossFit gym across town, if it works for you. Nobody from corporate is going to call you to ask that you tone it down or refer to the official branding manual. There’s no risk in offering 30-minute classes or 90-minute classes, if they work. There’s no risk in not having showers if the budget doesn't allow for them. There’s no risk in not having heat in the winter & air conditioning in the summer.
The bigger risk by far is in not having a personality at all. The bigger risk is trying to fit in, trying to be like all the other gyms, & in trying to appeal to everybody. There’s risk is assuming that the fact you offer CrossFit is enough. It was once, back in the day. But people have options now. They want to find the right place for them.
But people like Starbucks, you say.
Yes, of course they do. I do.
I’ve grown up & lived my entire life in the Northeast. You can’t throw a kettlebell around here without smashing through the windows of a Dunkin’ Donuts. But only in a very desperate pinch have I spent money for their coffee. It tastes like burnt feet to me.
But here’s the thing: Lots of people think spending $3 or $4 on a cup of Starbucks coffee is not only silly, it’s downright stupid. It’s coffee, they’ll argue. Coffee tastes like coffee, fancy boy.
To them, Starbucks is where other people go.
Lots of people think gyms without mirrors, ellipticals, towel service, & that cost $200 a month aren’t gyms, but centers of voluntary self-persecution.
To other people, those exact same gyms feel like home.
Neither belief is wrong. These people are just telling themselves different stories.
The person who thinks CrossFit is crazy, dangerous, & overpriced is telling himself a story about what fitness should look like. He’s telling himself a story about the value of safety versus perceived risk. His story says something about the importance of health relative to his bank account balance.
The story he’s telling himself corresponds with the story that Gold’s Gym is telling him. That’s why he will likely choose them before he chooses you.
The person who becomes a member of your gym is telling herself a different story. She’s telling herself a story that says three sets of ten bicep curls is a waste of time. Her story says working out in a class isn’t intimidating, it’s invigorating. Her story says health is worth exactly what you charge for a membership.
Let’s take the coffee-shop analogy one step further. After all, Dunkin’ Donuts & Starbucks are just two sides of the same corporate coin.
One of my favorite coffee-shops is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s called Book & Bar. As the name suggests, it’s a small restaurant tucked inside a bookstore. Or it’s a small bookstore tucked into a restaurant. I don't know which is more accurate.
I do know that the coffee is good & served to you by a cast of tattooed, bearded, & pierced young employees. If you know me at all, you know they built this place for people like me. The music is independent, the WiFi is good, & the worn-out, coffee-stained couches are comfortable.
This place isn’t interested in being like Starbucks. It’s interested in being the opposite of Starbucks. As a result, it’s often filled to the brim with people who don't want the uniformity, the meeting of moderate expectations, or the homogeneity of Starbucks. The weirdness is what those of us who choose them want. Because the story we are telling ourselves is that we are, in a similar way, just as weird.
Book & Bar didn’t have to do anything to convince me to go there. It didn’t have to make the case for choosing a local business over an international corporation. It didn’t have to show me why their free range, grass fed coffee beans are better than what I’d get at Starbucks. It had to embrace its weirdness & be okay that some people - the majority of people - probably won’t pick them. Because they don’t want all the people. They want the right people.
This is no different than the reasons your gym exist. If you wanted status quo, if you wanted an average business for average people, you would have opened a Planet Fitness. But you didn’t. Because you’re weird in all the right ways.
Your weirdness is a feature, not a flaw. It will be what attracts the right people to your facility. As long as you keep your promises, it will be what keeps them there despite a world filled with safe, boring, corporate options. The people who choose you don’t want to choose the faceless, empty expanse of a Gold’s Gym. They want something different.
That something different might also be what turns some people away, though. They might hate the music you play, the lack of proper locker rooms, or that they have to keep gloves on until the warmup is over in January. Don’t take offense when they don't choose you. Be glad. They are making room for more of the right people. The people who are ready to believe what you believe, who want for themselves the same thing that you want for them.
These are the your people. They are the ones who will commit to the program. They’ll listen to you about nutrition. They’ll ask you about mobility & about what workouts they can do on vacation. They are the ones who will drink the kool-aid, which means they are the ones who will make the most progress. When they talk about you, it will be glowing. They’ll become walking billboards pointing directly back to you.
Remember what Coach Glassman says: “We’re going to do the right things, for the right people, for all the right reasons.” There’s no more effective way to find these right people than by embracing your weird & by creating a business than feels unique, fresh, & special. Those who do so, Glassman reminds us, will be “handsomely rewarded.”
Like core values, your gym’s personality isn’t something you should force. Think about what comes natural to you.
Like core values, once we articulate the individuality we'd like to embrace, we can work to strengthen it. We can deploy it with intention. We can put it out front so that when the right people walk through your door, they know that they’re home.
Time to Do Work
With what you just learned in mind, revisit your original answer. Open up your Brandwork Doc & let’s solidify the personality traits you want to identify, embrace, & enhance.
Now that you’ve got three or four personality traits on paper, look at them with these questions in mind:
Can you imagine somebody (many people) wanting something other than a gym with these personality traits? If so, good. If not, dig a little deeper to find the edge.
Do your personality traits play well next to the values you came up with in the last session? A gym that values “competitiveness,” for example, probably shouldn’t aim to also be “relaxed.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Ask 5 or 6 members to describe your gym in one word. Are any of their answers on your list? If not, is it because they see things differently than you do? Or is it because you’re not doing a good enough job emphasizing the personality traits you want to be know for?
In the next section, you’re going to take the uniqueness conversation a little further in an effort to identify how you’re different than everybody else around you. Until then, here’s a quote from world-renowned designer Debbi Millman worth balancing on the tip of your nose for a while:
"Branding is deliberate differentiation.”